|Musical Style: Heavy Metal||Produced By: John Blackwing|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: Canada|
|Year Released: 2004||Artist Website: Thunder Rider|
|Tracks: 16||Rating: 90%|
|Running Time: 66:00|
Thunder Rider is a relatively obscure but uniquely talented group that hails from Montreal, Quebec. Relatively obscure in terms of the six song EP, Tales Of Darkness & Light, it independently released in 1989, a little known but musically solid work later re-issued by the band in 1997 as a full length effort with two bonus tracks. Uniquely talented from the standpoint of how it mixes medieval instrumentation and angelic choir vocals with a foundation of traditional metal to create an environs bordering on the epic and symphonic. When considering the era at hand (late eighties), Thunder Rider was way ahead of its time in terms of its musical leanings. I mean, how many bands of the time – a period better known for wave your lighter in the air ballads and hair, hair and more hair – made use of classical keyboards, flute and recorder and theatrical songwriting?
The group followed up in 2002 with its appropriately entitled sophomore outing Tales Of Darkness & Light – Chapter II. The album, if anything, builds upon the strengths that made its predecessor such a success.
First, Thunder Rider continues to bring a melding of classic and epic metal but this time with a bit more emphasis on the medieval; I prefer to label the group “epic battle metal with a medieval flair”, a description that hits the nail on the head when considering the musical happenings at hand. Essential pieces “Thy Kingdom Come”, “Mid Evil” and “Dark Castle”, for instance, emphasize over the top keyboards, flute, neo-classical soloing and a church organ to create a bombastic if not grand and stately metal experience. Yet, when elements of the theatric and progressive are explored on “Heavy Metal Wizzard”, a choice track despite the cheesy title, and “Day Of The Damned”, as artful a composition as you will find, the band is in prime form in terms of its songwriting. The album, otherwise, features a portent brand of traditional and classic metal – “Holy Terror”, “Satan’s Wrath” and “Evil Slayer” reflect this best – while adding the occasional doom-ish moment, such as on “Death Angel”.
Direct comparisons vary but the description I provided in my review of Tales Of Darkness & Light remains relevant:
“If you partial to Cirith Ungol, Warlord, Trouble, Omen and Manowar then Thunder Rider will be certain to appeal to you. Of course, classic metal fans will find a lot to like here – think Judas Priest and Saint – as will those into old school Christian metal along the lines of early Barren Cross, Bride, Messiah Prophet, Philadelphia and Messiah.”
Second, Tales Of Darkness & Light – Chapter II proves the more cohesive, band based effort. The debut had an almost demo feel to it, with the main reason being the myriad of musicians that participated on its recording, a particular reflecting the obvious revolving door in the Thunder Rider line up at the time. Chapter II, on the other hand, was primarily recorded by a core group of musicians, including founding member John Blackwing (lead vocals, rhythm and lead guitar, synthesizers and flute), Pat Hammer (drums), Bruce Corian (lead and rhythm guitar), Roberto Deus (keyboards) and Luc Dufresne and Bryant Clarke (both bass).
Blackwing, quite the talented multi instrumentalist, showcases a deep and clean mid-ranged vocal style hinting of emotion and elements of the operatic. When singing in a lower register, he almost reminds me of Jimmy P. Brown (Deliverance) or Eric Clayton (Saviour Machine) but can also deliver the occasional moment with a baritone feel. Guitar wise, he forms quite the able team with Bruce Corian, the two decorating the project with rhythm guitar in abundance and their scintillating soloing abilities. The blistering lead work gracing “Satan’s Wrath” and lengthy instrumental stretches on “Heavy Metal Wizzard” and “Day Of The Damned” find the two at their best. It also must be noted the well placed keyboard work, accenting the backdrop in adding to the albums sublime aura.
Complaints are few and far between. Other than one filler track (“Lucky Devil”) and three short instrumentals that get in the way (and extend the album unnecessarily), I cannot fault the project.
Third, production represents a step forward, shedding any hints of the muddiness characteristic to the debut and sporting the crisper, cleaner and all around more polished sound.
Thunder Rider might not be a Christian band, but its lyrics are written from a Christian perspective. The group maintains the medieval themes in addressing topics ranging from the Lord’s Prayer (“Thy Kingdom Come”), the antichrist (“New Born”), the Reformation (“Mid Evil”) and overcoming evil ("Dark Castle"). Similar to the debut, there seems to be an overall theme of warning against the wrongness and depravity of evil as opposed to glorifying it- and hinting at the meaning behind I John 3:8 in the process: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.”
“Thy Kingdom Come” gets things underway to a grandiose keyboard solo. Once the rhythm guitar fades in we are off, a dramatic setting established as the song punches through its verses on the way to a brief but catchy chorus put over the top by its emotional proclivity. I can see Chaz Bond era Jacobs Dream doing something like this. What we have here is a medieval call to war with a corresponding prayer for the coming of God’s Kingdom:
Sons and fathers leave
To meet the war’s demand
Wives and mothers grieve
Children can’t understand
They watch with a sigh
As their fathers’ troops march by.
Women are widowed
Families torn apart
Children are caught in the middle
For a war must start.
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done
A heavier and faster direction is taken on “New Born”. This one is traditional metal all the way, reinforced by an upfront guitar mix but highlighted with hints of keyboards in the background. An ominous aura is put forth in the process. Lyrics deal with the antichrist:
He is the new born antichrist
And the world he will devour.
His strengths are still unknown
Until he gains his power
He is just like you
But you are not like him.
He will rule us all
Just listen for his beckoning call.
The world will turn to a fiery hell
And all the people will be under his spell.
“Death Angel” opens its first seconds to a plodding riff that has doom written all over it. The song, otherwise, moves at the more forthright tempo with the decisive - almost downtrodden - flair to its chorus and more bone chilling keyboards adding to the portent scene. Lyrically, this one asks a simple but straightforward question:
He takes you by the arm
Skeletal fingers pierce your flesh
Your life blood drains away
While you search for a prayer to pray
As the lightning cracks the sky
And the ground begins to quake
You scream out loud “Death Angel, there must be some mistake.”
Thoughts of good and evil
Race through your mind
Will you go to hell or the great divine?
A return to a medieval metal direction is taken on “Mid Evil”. Slowing things to a mid-paced romp, the song brings some rumbling guitar and bass interplay during its verses while culminating for a dramatic chorus backed by a militant drum beat. The use of recorder during its instrumental moments helps add to the medieval atmosphere. The Reformation is the topic at hand:
As the rising of the monasteries began
Supremacy struggles were waged
Emperors and Popes drew battle lines
Warring for divine right
Christianity triumphs over Pagan Europe
Holy decline of medieval times
As blood dries on sword and spear
Dark ages come to light
“Holy Terror” picks up the pace. Similar to “New Born” what we have here is a traditional metal slab that has classic Saint written all over it- drop this on Time’s End or In The Battle and it would sound right at home. Blackwing’s emotional vocal delivery, at the same time, adds to the striking milieu, reinforcing what best can be described an aphotic musical scene.
“Lucky Devil” is the only song here not to do it for me. Musically, it is a rollicking piece with a good combination of choppy rhythm guitar and theatric keyboards. The problem, however, revolves around a chorus I find a bit too simplistic in structure to receive a passing grade- at least in my opinion. Despite a killer guitar solo, I tend to pass.
“Satan’s Wrath” represents three minutes of unremitting energy, driving its distance in full fury as a curtly done chorus and punch driven mentality carry the day. What truly puts things over the top is an extended instrumental excursion that runs the gamut from melodic guitar harmony to blistering soloing. This is one of several songs here presenting a warning against evil:
He’ll tear you into pieces
He’ll take you dead or alive
You haven’t got a hope in hell
There’s no way to survive.
An evil holocaust unleashed
By the crown prince of hate
Repent upon your sins
Or suffer a common fate.
Yes, a bit heavy handed, but it also must be reinforced, as stated earlier, the meaning behind I John 3:8: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” So, in case you have any doubts, there IS hope and a way to survive.
Things get interesting with “Heavy Metal Wizzard”, a great number that, despite the corny title, ranks with the albums finest. I enjoy how the song slowly fades in and builds momentum over its first two minutes to a sublime melding of guitar, keyboards and angelic vocal choirs. Impetus picks up exponentially at that point, an abundance of ardor put forth as the way is paved through near mesmerizing verses and symphonic based chorus sustained by more angelic vocal choirs. Generous instrumental moments can be found as well, including a stretch of high energy lead guitar and the final haunting minute and a half.
“Evil Slayer” does exactly that, with a hard charging front to back impetus that only lets up – even if only just briefly – for a too the point chorus with abundant hook driven mentality (yes, abbreviated but quite catchy in the process). The lead guitar work proves fittingly succinct while an every bit as complementary ghoulish voice closes things out. “Evil Slayer” talks about an avenging angel:
Blessed by the Lord,
She rides true and strong.
Justice by the law of God,
She rights all that which is wrong.
The faith which guides her
Through her seemingly endless trek
Is strengthened each day,
By the goodness she protects.
“Dark Castle” starts to some neo-classical soloing before taking off to a choppy guitar riff. The song maintains the weighty momentum for its verses only to present with a contrasting element as things smooth for the catchiness of its inauspicious chorus. More medieval flavorings can be found in the church organ of its classically driven instrumental section. “Dark Castle” deals with overcoming evil:
Dark castle on unholy ground
Evil forces want to pull you down
Fires burning bright throughout the night
If you want to live, fight with all your might.
You can survive it, if you want
Just ignore them as they taunt
Mind over matter, it’s just hallucination
You can beat them now, use your imagination.
No, not exactly profound, but I can see where the group is coming from.
The nine minute “Day Of The Damned” represents the albums choice track, bringing a near Rush-like progressiveness as the group pulls out all the stops from a creative standpoint. The song opens its first two and a half minutes atmospherically as piano and keyboards join with haunting vocal melodies. Making an abrupt time change as the rhythm guitar kicks in, “Day Of The Damned” moves on to an extended jam based instrumental section that makes a gradual descent back to an ethereal direction as a lyrical warning is presented:
Those who have sinned
The impure within
Death’s cold hand is upon you
It’s too late, there’s no escape
Behold the opening, the opening of the gate
Day of the damned
It will literally send shivers down your spine as initiative again picks up and the songs title is repeated in ominous fashion. Another sweeping instrumental excursion follows before things close in the form of one final warning:
Beware of Satan, for he seeks your souls
On the day of the damned
Album closer “Devil’s Playground”, a very good classic metal piece, almost comes across anti-climatic in following the brilliance of “Day Of The Damned”. Up-tempo and high energy paced, the song charges its distance in standing out with the strength of its catchy chorus and near perfect guitar mix- the improved production values really shine here. Yes, a bit short at just three minutes but solid nonetheless.
Deciding on a final grade was one of the main challenges in writing the review of Chapter II. Initially, my instinct was 85%, but subsequent listens convinced me an even higher rating (90%) was warranted. The determining factor ended up being the quality of the songwriting, which kept me coming back time and again. In the end, I found myself listening to the album because I wanted to and not just for the purpose of putting together the review. Strength of the bands performance and improvement in the area of production only add to the albums appeal.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Thy Kingdom Come" (4:41), “New Born" (3:13), “Death Angel" (3:01), “Final Eclipse" (2:24), “Mid Evil" (4:11), “Holy Terror" (3:22), “Lucky Devil" (3:42), “Child's Prayer" (3:25), “Satan's Wrath" (2:59), “Heavy Metal Wizzard" (7:36), “Evil Slayer" (4:48), “Interlude In D-Minor" (2:26), “Dark Castle" (4:40), “Day Of The Damned" (8:53), “Devil's Playground" (3:02)
John Blackwing – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Synthesizers & Flute
Bruce Corian – Guitars & Records
Roberto Deus – Keyboards
Luc Dufresne – Bass & Keyboards
Bryan Clarke – Bass
Nathalie Dauphin & Nathalie Lacourse - Vocals